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What China says about the TikTok furor in Washington| GuyWhoKnowsThings

This is not the first time China has seen a TikTok frenzy consume Washington.

In 2020, former President Donald J. Trump issued a executive order That would have forced TikTok's Chinese owners to sell the popular app. But Beijing thwarted a takeover bid from American buyers by slapping Restrictions on technology exports.. Last year, Montana lawmakers enacted a ban on TikTok in the state, but the law was blocked by a federal judge before it could take effect.

Now, US lawmakers are trying again to force ByteDance, TikTok's Chinese owner, to give up control of the app. On Wednesday, the House passed a bill, by a vote of 352 to 65, that would force ByteDance to sell the app or ban it in the United States.

But the fervor has not yet prompted a high-alert response from Chinese leaders or sparked threats of retaliation against American companies. Instead, Beijing officials criticized the bill but largely reiterated common criticisms of U.S. policy as unfair to China.

According to experts, there are several reasons for its moderation. Despite bipartisan support for the bill in the House, it faces an uncertain fate in the Senate. Trump, the expected Republican presidential nominee, has said he opposes the bill despite his 2020 executive order against TikTok. And China has legal tools it could use to try to block any sales.

“China is not willing to directly pull the trigger for large-scale retaliation against what the United States is doing,” said Scott Kennedy, a China specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

TikTok exerts a broad influence in the United States, particularly among younger people. It is estimated to have 170 million users in the United States, up from 100 million in 2020. It has an even larger global footprint, with approximately 1 billion users in 140 countries. ByteDance's Chinese version of TikTok, Douyin, had more than 600 million daily active users in mid-2020, the last time it reported those statistics.

In Washington, lawmakers say Beijing could use TikTok to spread messages from the Chinese Communist Party or gain access to sensitive data about American TikTok users.

President Biden has said he would sign the House bill if it reached his desk. But Trump's opposition to the legislation has signaled to Beijing that he can keep his powder dry.

“Trump's opposing view took the wind out of this bill, so there is reason for Beijing and ByteDance to believe this issue will eventually go away,” said Kevin Xu, founder of US-based Interconnected Capital, a hedge fund that invests in artificial intelligence technologies.

TikTok says it has taken steps to protect the data and privacy of American users. It has proposed a deal to store US user data on domestic servers controlled by Oracle. But that effort to address lawmakers' security concerns has been unsuccessful, leaving “absolutely zero trust between TikTok and Washington right now,” Xu said.

Despite years of scrutiny, a Chinese company still owns TikTok. And even if lawmakers in Washington agree to force a sale, officials in Beijing have warned in the past that such a transaction would require their approval.

In 2020, when the sale of TikTok to American investors including Oracle and Microsoft appeared to be close, the Chinese government asserted his authority on exports that he considered sensitive; experts believe those rules encompass technology like the algorithm that powers TikTok. The move effectively thwarted attempts to put TikTok in the hands of American owners.

Export controls mean China could block the sale of what makes TikTok so addictive: its powerful algorithm that guesses the interests of users to serve them video after video.

Within China, the belief among academics and commentators is that Beijing would not allow ByteDance to sell this technology to a foreign company.

Any sale of TikTok without its core algorithm would leave a potential buyer with a much less attractive product, Jin Canrong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, said on Chinese social media platform Weibo in a mail on Thursday it attracted 184,000 views.

China's state-controlled media circulated a statement on Thursday by the Department of Foreign Affairs, which cited the treatment of TikTok as evidence of the United States' “double standards” in protecting free speech. On China's censored social media platforms, pressure in Washington has stoked outrage over the treatment of Chinese companies.

On Weibo this week, “TikTok strikes back” became a trending topic after the platform urged its users to mobilize against the House bill. Many commentators characterized the bill as a theft and questioned Washington's commitment to free market competition. They were also concerned that the bill could be a template for Washington to use against other Chinese-owned tech companies.

“Can we really do business like this?” asked Shen Yi, a cyberspace governance expert at Shanghai's Fudan University. Washington wielded the concept of national security as a weapon “at the head of any company in any country, saying: 'Sell it or find other companies to work with.' It's for your own good,'” Mr. Shen said.

At a news conference on Friday, Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry, demurred when asked about the latest developments in the TikTok furor in Washington. “Yesterday we answered questions about TikTok,” he said.

Olivia Wang contributed research from Hong Kong.

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